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A society immune to women’s pain

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)

By Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva

EVEN in these trying and crying times, where hope is thinning away from grasp of the nation’s imagination, it was never anticipated that the closure of Mandela month for the year 2022 would be on this excruciating note – the gang rape of eight women on a mine dump reportedly on a film shoot in West Village Krugersdorp on July 28.

The incident leaves a sour taste in the mouth when voices should be raised in acknowledgement of the valiant struggles that women have waged, which remembrance of August 9, 1956 brings.

The brazen criminality and the violence that these young women, some still teenagers went through, has traumatised the whole nation.

Women, in this country, are slowly becoming numb to the cruelty we experience in our homes, in our communities and places of work. This is despite enduring efforts by civil society that has continuously brought to the nation’s conscience what women are going through. The many marches and demonstrations, highlighting the plight of women, have had no desired effect for safety, protection and care. Promises made by the government, to combat the scourge, have been met by an escalation of a nightmare perpetrated by the scum bags unrepentantly reducing hard-earned democracy to a loaded dice to gamble with.

In 2018 women, men and young people marched throughout the country demanding that urgent action be taken to address gender based violence and femicide. Due to this massive pressure the government convened the first Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide on November 1 and 2 2018.

A broad representation of civil society organisations and government came together in Pretoria, hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa. At the end of this remarkable summit a declaration was signed with five key interventions to be implemented over the next six months. The declaration had anticipated by the end of May 2019 a lot of ground would have been covered.

The five pillars included urgent response to victims and survivors of GBV; broadening access to justice for survivors; changing social norms and behaviour through high level awareness raising and prevention campaigns; strengthening existing architecture and promoting accountability; and the creation of more economic opportunities for women who are vulnerable to abuse because of poverty.

The critical part of this Declaration committed to the constitution of a Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Council by April 2020. This council was to be a permanent, multi sectoral structure with a responsibility to steer and monitor the implementation of a National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NSP on GBVF) 2020 to 2030. This was a solid plan that civil society committed to and had trust that the government would stick to the timelines it had set for itself.

On September 18 2019 the President announced in Parliament an Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) which would be implemented to mobilise all sectors of society against gender-based violence and to guide the coordination of the national effort.

In the government’s first Report on the (NSP on GBVF) Roll-Out for May 2020 to 30 April 2021 the Report shows that the NSP on GBVF was launched on 30 April 2020 as the country fell under the grip of a hard lockdown. The roll-out launch was carried out without the National Council on GBVF being in place. Consequently, the government failed the women of this country by opting for self-monitoring and not setting up a structure as was resolved at the Presidential Summit. Frankly speaking, Covid-19 absolutely had nothing to do with this failure by the government.

A report in this regard suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic overshadowed all existing priorities. This, when the President repeatedly told the nation that GBVF is a pandemic in this country. This report further tells us that there was political leadership and prioritisation of GBVF that has provided important impetus to bringing stakeholders on board and increase the contributions of key sectors such as the private sector and the faith community.

However, while the participation of stakeholders is good, only a few government departments have successfully embedded the NSP on GBVF within their operations. Notably, the Department of Women, Youth and People with Disabilities, and the Presidency as a whole, are failing to hold the other Ministers to account and to implement what the President promised the people of this country.

There is a serious problem when this report states clearly that on average 10 departments have compliance of 50% and above ranging from 52% to 100%. It further states that the pace of delivery reflected in the reports has been slow and uneven and has not demonstrated the level of prioritisation required to respond to the GBV crisis.

If the president was serious about the implementation of the NSP on GBVF, more than 50% of the cabinet Ministers would have been retired at that time for failure to implement such a critical strategy. The people of this country are then left with a government that does not take their pain and suffering seriously by total failure to keep to its set timelines.

The Minister for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has been very scarce in episodes that have traumatised women and children lately. She was unavailable when 21 young people died in a tavern in East London. Nkoana-Mashabane’s presence at the joyous victory parade of the Banyana Banyana national soccer team could not be faulted. The pain of the nation’s women and children requires no less of her department’s care and support.

She has not come out to support the eight young women raped in Krugersdorp but did not miss the launch of Women’s Month in KZN. When we needed her to represent us in showing empathy and compassion to the victims and their families, she was never broken-hearted.

As relevant point ministry, her absence sends a signal that clearly shows that the government does not really care about the nation’s pain, especially women’s. Women are scared every waking and sleeping moment of their lives. Some of us even wake up in the middle of the night to check if the very doors that get broken into are really locked.

Perpetually scared to go unaccompanied at night to any place, women’s fear is compounded by weather-like updates of blackouts from Eskom. The darkness stalking our lives has become standing opportunity for women to be attacked from work, raped and robbed. Young girls on their way to or from school now must walk in groups for better protection. Walking alone has become an invitation for danger.

Women and children in villages suffer quietly in their corners as they are abused.

Ministers that do not take this scourge seriously have no reason to keep the honour of the offices they occupy. The President needs to risk his political life no less for us. We need a very angry President. Until and unless that happens, then we are on our own here and we can just pray hard that we do not become another statistic.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva is the former chairperson Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. She is the current chairperson of the 70s Group. The 70’s Group is inspired by thought leaders and liberation activists of the late 1960s and 1970s who created a consciousness that fostered the fight against racism.